Nicholas Kuehnel to lead Department of Emergency Medicine’s clinical focus as Vice Chair of Clinical Operations

Nicholas Kuehnel, MD, accepts a Physician Excellence Award. Photo by John Maniaci / UW Health (2021)

The BerbeeWalsh Department of Emergency Medicine has named Nicholas Kuehnel, MD, as its Vice Chair of Clinical Operations, effective October 1, 2023. Dr. Kuehnel is an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics, and a distinguished, collaborative leader in emergency department quality, operations, and patient safety.

In his new capacity, Dr. Kuehnel will spearhead clinical initiatives aimed at providing collaborative solutions to operational challenges while elevating the breadth and focus of quality improvement and safety across all facets of UW Health and VA Hospital emergency departments (EDs).

As a key member of the department’s Quality and Operations Leadership Team (QOLT), he will work closely with both local and health system leaders to ensure EDs deliver the highest level of patient-centered care. Dr. Kuehnel steps into the role as the department’s former Vice Chair Ciara Barclay-Buchanan transitions to Chief Medical Officer for UW Health’s University Hospital.

Dr. Kuehnel has consistently demonstrated his dedication to healthcare excellence. He completed medical school at the Medical College of Wisconsin and his pediatrics residency at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. He then undertook a fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin before joining the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in 2017 as faculty of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics.

Since, he has held several leadership roles within the department, including medical director for pediatric emergency medicine and then medical director of adult and pediatric patient experience at University Hospital and East Madison Hospital emergency departments. He also translated his knowledge to teaching and mentorship as faculty lead for resident and fellow quality improvement education and as a coach for the quality improvement thread through the medical school’s Forward curriculum.

In 2021, Dr. Kuehnel began leading the UW Health Kids quality program as the inaugural Medical Director for Quality and Safety. In this role, he worked collaboratively with leaders and staff across the pediatric system of care while also integrating safety, quality, and experience efforts related to pediatric patients closely with the broader UW Health system.

Dr. Kuehnel was awarded the Rising Star Clinical Practice Award from UW Health the same year. This prestigious, peer-nominated award recognizes UW Health’s most skilled and dedicated physicians who demonstrate outstanding performance in clinical practice and dedication to patient and family-centered care. Kuehnel also received UW Health’s Safety Leadership Award earlier this year.

“I am thrilled to have Dr. Kuehnel return to emergency medicine to lead our clinical operations, in conjunction with his dyad partner Anne Rikkers, RN, Senior Director of Emergency Services, and the ED medical directors,” said Manish N. Shah, MD, MPH, professor and chair, BerbeeWalsh Department of Emergency Medicine.

Kuehnel will transition out of his institutional role with UW Health Kids over the next few months as he assumes greater leadership within the department.

Dr. Kuehnel’s remarkable achievements from the outset of his career exemplify the ideals of servant leadership and underscore his sophisticated grasp of team dynamics and change management. Additionally, his appointment reflects the BerbeeWalsh Department of Emergency Medicine’s enduring commitment to providing world-class emergency care and underscores the critical importance of nurturing top-tier talent to lead the way in clinical operations.

In a memo to providers and staff, Dr. Manish Shah highlighted Kuehnel’s experience, energy, and commitment and noted that Kuehnel “will be a powerful asset as we continue to rapidly expand as a clinical service.”